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Vital People: Measuring the health of a community

How do you know how well your community is doing? Do you look out your car window as you drive home? Do you talk to your neighbours? Read the newspaper and watch the local news? The notion of measuring the well-being of a community is not a new conce

How do you know how well your community is doing? Do you look out your car window as you drive home? Do you talk to your neighbours? Read the newspaper and watch the local news?

The notion of measuring the well-being of a community is not a new concept, but just what exactly to measure is a concept that’s been shifting. Economic standards such as gross domestic product or unemployment rates have been considered the benchmarks for understanding how we are fairing.

Over the last decade though, other approaches have been explored, showing a much different picture of what community well-being can really mean.

In Victoria, as in dozens of communities across the country, one tool we’ve been using is Vital Signs, an annual community report card coordinated by Community Foundations Canada. Locally, the report is produced by the Victoria Foundation and sponsored by Island Savings Credit Union, combining public opinion with statistics and relevant facts to provide a snapshot of the livability of our region.

The report presents “indicator data” in 12 issue areas ranging from health to environment, housing, and arts and culture. Each year, residents are surveyed and asked to grade and assess each area, as well as rank their most important concerns facing our community.

Results are used by both the Victoria Foundation, to help determine where best to target grants to community groups working to improve areas of concern, and by other organizations, politicians and individuals to help them understand their community better, including where their support is needed most.

Another tool for measuring community well-being is just about to be launched in our region. The 2012 Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) composite report showed that in the 17-year period from 1994 to 2010, Canada’s GDP grew by a robust 28.9 per cent while our quality of life only improved by a very modest 5.7 per cent. Further, it revealed that the decline in our well-being continues despite subsequent economic recovery.

The findings uncover some troubling truths about the connection between our economy and our wellbeing. When Canada’s economy was thriving, Canadians saw only modest improvements in their overall quality of life, but when the economy faltered our wellbeing took a disproportionate step backward.

Beginning May 1, more than 18,000 random residents will be mailed an invitation to take a local version of the CIW community wellbeing survey. If you are invited, I urge you to provide your input and help us gauge just how well our community is doing. And once again this year, from May 12 to July 1, every resident in the region is encouraged to participate in the Victoria’s Vital Signs online survey, the results of which will be published in October.

Together, these surveys will help us better understand how well we are really doing. As in most cases, better understanding leads to better decisions. Have your say, Victoria … and help make our community even better.

Sandra Richardson is CEO of the Victoria Foundation.